Clean Water

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”
Haggai 2:11-13

A basic principle taught by the clean and unclean laws was that death spreads. Call it the Transitive Property of Death. To be unclean was to be ritually dead, unable to worship, unable to approach God. Touch an unclean object, even hidden within a cover, and the uncleanliness spread to you. Leviticus 11 teaches this in detail.

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Mark 5:25-29

Shockingly, when Jesus came on the scene, the exact opposite happened. Death had no dominion. Rather, life spread in abundance from the person of Jesus, even if he was covered by a garment. The woman with the flow of blood was permanently unclean (Leviticus 15:25), like a leper. So her healing was not merely medical, but rather made her fit to worship again. Whether the woman or a leper, whoever Jesus touched became clean. If their uncleanliness was due to an infirmity, then the infirmity yielded to the new life of Jesus and was healed. We see this pattern over and over in the Gospels, and it completely turns the entire framework of clean and unclean on its head.

When reading Leviticus 11 this morning, however, I noticed an exception to the Transitive Property of Death that I had not picked up on before.

Nevertheless, a spring or a cistern holding water shall be clean, but whoever touches a carcass in them shall be unclean.
Leviticus 11:36

Water was crucial in the rituals of purification that restored a person or thing to a state of cleanliness, and from the beginning it was specified that the water could not be made unclean. Now this exception foreshadows not only Jesus and his abundant life, but also us, as God’s means of purifying the world. Read the following verses in that context.

O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.
Jeremiah 17:13

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
John 4:10-15

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 7:37-38

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:17

God has always been a spring of living water. But now we are too! So we are part of God’s grand reversal of the laws of uncleanliness. We are the means by which all the unclean things of the world are to be washed and made clean, through the power of the Spirit.